The personal media world … is a world where answering back is not an option - it’s required. Otherwise, you don’t have the personal media experience. Take Google. You don’t watch Google. Watching Google would be like watching the test pattern on a TV (before test patterns went away). If you don’t put something into Google first, you don’t get something out. That’s the world of personal media, where there are no bystanders; you have to participate to have the experience. That is profoundly new territory for people designing systems.
The discipline of design, in all its forms, empowers individuals to explore the diverse qualities of personal experience and to shape the common qualities of community experience. This makes design an essential element in a new philosophy of culture, replacing the old metaphysics of fixed essences and natures which Dewey critiqued throughout a lifetime of work directed toward the experimental nature of inquiry after the philosophic and cultural revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Furthermore, design is inquiry and experimentation in the activity of making, since making is the way that human beings provide for themselves what nature provides only by accident. There is a deep reflexive relation between human character and the character of the human-made: character influences the formation of products and products influence the formation of character in individuals, institutions, and society.
A while ago the Architectural League of New York put out one of their Situated Technologies pamphlets exploring the concept of Micropublic Places, in which the intersection of ambient intelligence, human computing, architecture, social engineering, and urbanism act as sites for re-imagining the public realm (in this reading the idea of public realm is taken from Arendt and Latour as, “a contested space ruled by antagonism rather than conformism”).
Some of this reminds me of Dan Hill’s explorations into neuroscience and cultures of decision-making and the Helsinki Design Lab’s work in understanding local decision-making cultures, but the really interesting part is the consideration and inclusion of things in the dialogue.
One only has to take a closer look to realize that technical objects have always been things in the original sense of the word, merely concealing their complicated networks of relationships under smooth and perfect surfaces. Confronted with things like cars, nuclear reactors, baby milk, mobile phones, etc., we are forced to acknowledge “external”” forces that exist within things. So Latour writes with good reason, “What the etymology of the word thing … had conserved for us mysteriously as a sort of fabulous and mythical past has now become, for all to see, our most ordinary present”“. Moreover, in a globalized world, things—including the accidents they cause and their potential misuse—connect us more than kinship, identity, or territory. We have become cosmopolitans gathered together by things rather than by nationalities.
This is important to consider as we attempt to solve the wicked problems confronting us. How do we make visible what is hidden, how do we give representation to things that have never been afforded such? And when we do, how does this impact cultures of decision-making?
Contemporary cities don’t resemble the Greek polis. Rather, they are gigantic households in which private matters take on public relevance. Under such circumstances it is hard to find a place to represent Greenland’s glaciers or the migration flows from the South, or, for that matter, any form of the avant-garde. But we know for sure that the local problems can’t be solved without taking into consideration global warming, global migration, and time battering the earth. How do we give them a voice?
Indeed, how do we give them a voice?
Corral de Bustos, population 11,000, is a small town in the pampas of Argentina. Papa Mignolo grew up there, my grandmother still lives there, and we are related to roughly half the town. The playground adjacent to the central plaza is where my brother received a huge electrical shock, and where I split my chin open on a see-saw.
In December of 2011 I went back to visit with the boy’s Canon EOS-1 VH (using Kodak 400 TX film). Though the trip is just a few months removed, the black and white film does an amazing job of manifesting fading memories and capturing the omnipresent nostalgia I feel for Corral de Bustos, even when I am there.
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